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Science Week 2019: Laboratory scientists bring together biosecurity effort for WA

Released on

Released on:
Monday, 12. August 2019 - 9:45

A dedicated team of Western Australian scientists carry out thousands of laboratory tests each week to probe for pests and diseases which could threaten the State’s farming and fishing sectors, and to support valuable food exports.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Diagnostics and Laboratory Services (DDLS) deliver a broad range of tests, from terrestrial and aquatic animal and plant diseases, to insect pests, to seed certification.

DDLS Director Andrew Gregory said the laboratory conducted about 10,000 tests each month and played a central role in broader biosecurity efforts by government and industry.

“Our laboratory testing underpins surveillance programs which are important to protect our industries and reassure our trading partners that Western Australia doesn't have certain pests and diseases,” Mr Gregory said.

“Our diagnostic services can help enable early detection of new potentially destructive pests and diseases, with early detection vital in maximising the opportunity to eradicate.

“Our staff have expertise across 18 disciplines including aquatic animal health, plant pathology, histopathology, biochemistry, toxicology, parasitology, virology and entomology, along with seed testing and certification.

“Our testing is used by certification and assurance programs that support industry, including for cereals, hemp and seed potato sectors.”

Clients include government agencies, aquaculture industries, farmers, commercial seed producers, importers, exporters, marketers, mining companies, agricultural and horticultural professionals and home gardeners.

“Our staff work across Australia and with international experts to ensure that WA remains at the forefront of diagnostic developments,” Mr Gregory said.

Recently installed LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) machines are improving the speed at which the labs can deliver rapid, sensitive and reliable molecular diagnostics in the laboratory and in-field.

“Using this equipment, results are available in less than one hour compared with traditional methods which can take up to two days,” he said.

“We have used this technology during the citrus canker response in the east Kimberley, for detection of virus in aphids and plants, and for identification of Queensland fruit fly from larvae (previously larvae needed to be reared and identification was done morphologically on adults).”

New robotic equipment, the QIAcube HT, is helping provide rapid and high throughput molecular testing for diseases of plants and animals and insect identification.

“The technology allows us to quickly test high numbers of samples for diseases of concern and routine surveillance and diagnostic activities,” Mr Gregory said.

“The robot processes large volumes of samples in four hours compared to manual extraction which takes two days, increasing throughput and accuracy.”

National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology and runs from 10 – 18 August 2019.

Diagnostics and Laboratory Services
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development plant pathologist Monica Kehoe and molecular biologist Cuiping Wang with new robotic equipment, QIAcube HT.

Media contacts:

Jodie Thomson/Lisa Bertram, media liaison              +61 (0)8 9368 3937